Bell Museum plays host to wine-tasting event

The event was in honor of the burgeoning local wine industry.

Betsy Graca

While many students were tapping Budweiser kegs Saturday night, the Bell Museum of Natural History held a wine tasting event to address the growing local industry.

An estimated 200 people attended the event to learn about the history of wine and to sample local wine varieties, including four that have been developed at the University.

Mary Nelson, the museum’s membership and donations coordinator, organized the event.

Nelson said she took a horticulture class several years ago and wanted to bring the curriculum to the public.

“It’s amazing what the ‘U of M’ research does for the community,” she said. “I wanted to share a fun and educational event.”

James Luby, professor of horticulture, lectured the guests on the entire history of wine production: from the initial grape cultivation back in 5000 B.C., though the Dark Ages in Europe, to Prohibition in the U.S. and up to the University’s own research.

Scott Lanyon, director of the Bell Museum, said the museum wants to expose the public to more than natural animal and insect history.

The University, which began its grape-breeding program in 1908, has one of the top programs in the U.S., Lanyon said.

The University’s main objective is to produce high quality, disease resistant and winter-hardy wine, Luby said, adding that it takes evaluations of more than 10,000 seedlings to find one “survivor.”

The University currently has four wine varieties: two reds – the Frontac and the Marquette, and two whites – the La Crescent and the Frontenac Gris.

Luby said it takes roughly twenty years from the initial crossing of grape species to the time consumers can purchase the finished product.

Although the local industry is growing rapidly, most local wine varieties are still difficult to purchase beyond the vineyard where they’re grown, horticulture professor and guest wine expert, Gary Gardner said.

He added that most of the wine tasted at the event, all of which was developed locally, is rather exclusive and many Minnesotans would have difficulty coming across it otherwise.

Attendees were also able to enjoy cheeses provided by the Food Sciences Department.

In addition to alumni and community members, students got the chance to try what their peers and instructors have been working on.

“I thought it’d be cool to check out the University’s grape cultivating history,” biomedical engineering senior Brad Weegman said.

Joby Petronis, a bio-systems engineering student, said she likes to try new wines and was a little disappointed with the night’s samples.

Petronis said she wouldn’t buy Minnesota wine in the future, even though she prefers to support local farmers.

Support of locally grown products is one of the major reasons the Minnesota wine industry is growing, Luby said.

“What we are all anticipating is that the (University) research will affect the economy of the state.” Lanyon said.